Recently, someone said in my presence: “Why is life such a struggle? Couldn’t God make things easier for me!?” In thinking about that, I realized that life often is a struggle! And some days seem to be a greater struggle than others. Some people seem to go through more struggles than most, but everyone has struggles. Consider the following:
One day a small opening appeared on a cocoon, a man sat and watched for the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no further. So the man decided to help the butterfly, he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.
Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly. What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If God allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it might indeed cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. We could not fly. The old adage is so very true that God is more interested in our spiritual growth and formation than He is with our comfort. Here are some typical prayer requests and some unexpected answers...
I asked for Strength.........And God gave me Difficulties to make me strong. I asked for Wisdom..........And God gave me Problems to solve. I asked for Prosperity..........And God gave me a Brain and Brawn to work. I asked for Courage..........And God gave me Danger to overcome. I asked for Love..........And God gave me Troubled people to help. I asked for Favors...........And God gave me Opportunities.
Sometimes our struggles in life are due to our own mistakes. Have you ever made a mistake...not just a little error, but a biggy? All of us have at some point gone through mistakes of varying magnitudes. So how did you handle those mistakes or struggles in your life? The measure of a person often shows up, not with the successes in life, but with the failures. It is a pretty easy thing to ride the wave of praise that comes from doing something right. It's another thing to bounce back from a mistake and become successful. In a recent survey of the top executives across our country, almost all of them credited their current success with having gone through failure and disappointment in the past. They learned from it and grew in a positive direction as a result of it.
Here is a story of a man that made a terrible mistake early in his life: As a young boy, he was out walking in an orchard one day when he spotted a beautiful owl sleeping on the low branch of a tree. He decided to catch the owl and have it for a pet. He managed to sneak up on the owl and grabbed it by its legs. The owl went wild, beating the boy with its wings and scratching him. The boy tried to hang on, but finally in his panic and pain, he threw the owl to the ground and began stomping on it. When the dust cleared, he had stomped the owl to death. The boy was overcome with sorrow over the great mistake he had made. He couldn't bring the owl back to life, but perhaps he could find some other way to overcome his sorrow. He began to draw pictures of birds to share with family and friends. His drawings were so excellent that he expanded into drawing other animals and figures. That was the beginning of what would become a lifetime occupation. The young boy grew into the man we knew and loved...Walt Disney.
We have a definite choice before us when we make mistakes or when struggles come our way. We can learn and grow stronger and better from what has happened or we can live in depression and bitterness, becoming a smaller person day by day. One event can rule the rest of our lives if we don't allow ourselves to rise above it. What could be a stepping stone to better days and success may easily become a tombstone, burying our lives in dismal failure.
This has obvious applications to our lives in general. We can apply this to our relationships with family and friends and to our work situations. It also has very serious applications to our spiritual lives. Many people have had some adversity come along in their lives. Rather than grow from it, they have made the decision to blame God for what has happened. It could be a death or illness, a problem in Church, or any multitude of things. Whatever the reason, their bitterness toward God or the Church has become a tombstone. Their spiritual life has become stagnant or dead. We probably all know people that quit going to Church 20 years ago because someone offended them. Or they quit praying, because things didn't go the way they wanted (someone wasn't healed or someone died). God never promised there wouldn't be struggles in our lives. He promised that He would be with us in the midst of those struggles.
God can take our struggles and use them for good in our lives. Even the worse situations can become stepping stones for spiritual success, if we turn to God rather than away from Him:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose...If God is for us who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (See Romans 8:28-39 for some more food for thought.)
May we all learn to use mistakes, failures, and struggles in our lives as stepping stones to success in our work lives, our social lives, and especially in our spiritual lives. God’s blessings be with each of you!
St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church 1010 Spruce St * Pueblo, Colorado * 81004